Our family — like most, I'm sure — is no stranger to shopping online or via the TV shopping channels, but whenever possible we prefer to shop locally, such as at the hardware store a few blocks away, rather than take our custom elsewhere. This supports the local economy, builds trust with frequented shops, and is actually more convenient in many respects.
Without consciously thinking about this, when I logged into Second Life for the first time today and wanted to look for some particle scripts, I immediately proceeded to Outy's in Nangrim (SLurl), my home sim to shop "locally" ... and then it hit me. That's not really a "local" shop for several reasons, not the least of which is that there seems to be one every few hundred meters on any SL roadway. That makes it a "national" chain and not a local "mom and pop" store. And the Mainland isn't all that big anyway, if you were to outright measure it (as seen here) so everywhere is "local" if you think of it.
The real comparison, I suppose, brings us back to shopping online versus going to a "brick and mortar" (or prim and physics-defying principles in virtual terms) shop. Many merchants have left their in-world shops to sell their goods only on the Second Life Marketplace since that requires little at all (or now with Direct Delivery, no land). This has got to affect the economy much as it would in Real Life. Residents are ditching their private estates, huge tracts of land lay empty, often abandoned, on the Mainland. My friend Daniel Voyager keeps track of this sort of thing (he's very bright and never seems to sleep) and just recently had a post on his blog noting that total region count (and thus land area) has dropped yet again.
This has to effect The Lab's bottom line as land rent is probably their main source of income (I could be wrong since they also have commissions from the Marketplace and premium membership fees as revenue streams, though I don't know which might be larger). But what about in-world merchants? If shoppers rely more and more on buying from the Marketplace, trips to in-world shops will decrease and the land will become less economical to keep.
See a cycle starting? Makes one want to shop local more often.